It’s not often you get to say that you’ve seen both a Beckett and a Pinter play in one night, in an hour in fact. But The Other Room at Porter’s, yet again, delivers for it’s audiences a night of theatre that affects you and lets you indulge in it’s rarity.
‘Play’ begins, with whispers and hiccups from the faces in the glittering urns, designed wonderfully by (Amy Jane Cook). With the yellowish glow of rapid spotlights we hear the intricate thoughts of the man, the mistress and the wife. The hiccups, the pauses the whispers and the humour all a collection of brutally honest thoughts, each monologue justified by the other person’s words. On the left hand side we have W2, the wife of the man, played by Victoria John and next to her we have the Man in the middle (quite literally) played by Matthew Bulgo and to his right, W1, Peta Cornish, playing the mistress.
We race through the interior monologues, each contribution giving more than just verbal circumstance. We see what one could believe to be martial unhappiness mixed with a sense of neglect, regret and direct bitterness cleverly composed using just a few base notes and the odd pause, disguised as a ‘pardon’. The repetition in the piece doesn’t annoy, it’s evokes a different sense, a sense of memory. You feel comfortable enough to react but the lack of an entrance or exit reminds you that this is not a place to get comfortable in. To be alive in a funeral urn and only allowed to speak when the moonlight-like spotlight chooses you, in a place where you can’t imagine daylight- who knew it could be so comic?
After a short interval, one I wish hadn’t had to have taken place, we move on to ‘Silence’. A play that marked a change for Pinter, and certainly marks a change in this double bill. The actors are present on a well lit stage, looking lost in thought in a simple set of wooden side walls and a blank dim square at the back of the stage, representing a window.
Like ‘Play’, we are met by three characters, each sharing the space and look of nostalgia, and then Rumsey speaks. The interior monologue begins, this time casually, with a hopeless honesty exploring ‘the fleeting nature of love’ and the isolating recalling from what I gather to be different periods of time. Rumsey, played beautifully by Matthew Bulgo, poetically recalls his thoughts and ends as he begins, lonely and living from his past. Bulgo’s delivery of Rumsey’s first line is wonderfully ideal. We also meet The gentle Ellen played by Peta Cornish, who is this time, the lady in the middle. The middle of what is something that’s not completely clear from the text but as the monologues unfold we see the pasts of both these characters merge. We also meet Bates played by Neal McWilliams, a man who doesn’t share Rumsey’s soft tones but does share his interest in Ellen. He is the man Ellen had to choose after being rejected by Rumsey and ultimately, she loses loses him too, this time by choice, and they all have to live from within their memories and wonder what could’ve been, had life played out their ideal.
Both plays speak volumes and allow us as the audience to make sense of them, if we so wish. The directors Kate Wasserberg (Play) and Titas Halder (Silence), along with the entire cast and crew deserve multiple applause for attacking two brilliant plays and creating another fantastic night of insightful theatre.
Play/Silence runs at The Other Room at Porter’s until February 5th. It’s an unmissable double bill of the exact type of theatre we need. Go see, you won’t regret it!
Photographic credit Pallasca Photography
[vimeo 152270795 w=500 h=281]
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/152270795″>Play/Silence – a Beckett/Pinter double bill</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/tudleyjames”>TudorFilms</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Photograph Credit Pallasca Photography
Usually you wouldn’t associate football hooliganism with anything other than chavs and cheap thrills, but Blud goes beyond these initial prejudices, questioning loyalty and our need to belong – whether that’s to someone or something.
These are the key themes that are veiled under the supposed cult of football. What really matters to these characters is loyalty and finding a place in a society that renders you utterly powerless – which is precisely what the characters struggle with. Thus, Blud conveys football as a rite of passage into social mobility and ready-made identities, and eloquently so.
It takes some skills, for a writer and actors, to present a character that’s so immoral and yet so loveable. Yet thats what writer Kelly Jones and actors Francesca Marie Claire and Olivia Elsden do.
The stage directions – simple in action, though deeper in meaning, and therefore it goes without saying that you’d need to concentrate to fully appreciate the full extent of what they’re conveying.
It’s refreshing to see a theatre production that touches on such contemporary issues in a gritty, but wholly realistic manner.
This is theatre without the sugar coating, and that’s why we need it.
The Other Room Theatre brings to the stage Cardiff’s three woman theatre company ‘otherMother’ with their original production ‘Blud’. This play, written by Kelly Jones, has themes centred around the rivalry between two football teams and the desperation to stand up for themselves.
Set in a football locker room, The Other Room Theatre provides the intimacy that is needed between the story and the audience. The play consists of two visible characters, Rita- the captain of Cotley Town’s female football firm and her sister, Lou- Olivia Elsden. These characters are completely incompatible in personalities but soon realise the need for each other.
This is a dark play with comical one liners. It showcases the brutality and the need to stand up for what you believe in. Francesca Marie Claire, embodying Rita plays a woman who puts football above everything else to try and show her rival team that she is a fighter. Francesca never falters at delivering a true, passionate and gritty working class girl. Lou, played by Olivia Elsden showed the audience a childlike 15 year old trying to reach out to her older sister. Olivia acted out an innocent girl that provides the audience with a lot of entertainment. However as the play went on her character grows and she is converted from being a child to someone who was providing advice and support. Both actors grasped their sense of character and made the thematics in the play drive out even more.
Photograph Credit Pallasca Photography
The play is well structured and well written. It started off with a monologue from Rita that set the scene and unveiled her character. Throughout the play we are given insights of their past and how they grew up without this being portrayed as a biography. Chris Young, provided us with a soundscape, that gives us a sense of the chaotic world outside of the locker room. Furthermore without giving anything away, I believe the ending was well thought out and had a great impact on the whole story.
Photograph Credit Pallasca Photography
The trio that makes ‘otherMother’ consists of the writer, Kelly Jones, the director, Anna Poole and the producer, Olivia Harris. The company provide us with entertainment and a subject that’s intended to raise discussion and debate. ‘Blud’ is a production that everyone should go and see due to the raw nature and the elements combined in the play.
other Mother company members
From left, writer, Kelly Jones, the director, Anna Poole and the producer, Olivia Harris.
Life in Close Up: The Other Room’s First Season Overview
Now that The Other Room’s opening season has reached its close, Kate Wasserberg and her team can breath their first sigh of relief after a hugely successful critical and public response to three very unusual plays. Spatially, with just forty-four seats, it was an apt move to shape the first season around the intimate experience that The Other Room offers as the performance sits on top of you wherever you are situated. As a final round up to reflect on the ‘Life in Close Up’ season’s antics and audience appraisals, I had the opportunity to catch up with artistic director Kate Wasserberg and Alun Saunders, the writer of ‘A Good Clean Heart’ to address those niggling questions and observations that struck me during these performances.
Sarah Kane’s Blasted (1995)
It was bold choice by Kate and the The Other Room team to open the season and the theatre itself with a play that is engulfed in controversial and challenging criticism. The late 90’s reviews had originally brandished Sarah Kane’s Blasted as a sordid and immature piece of writing that for all intensive purposes was written to shock. Despite many of these accusations being revised, launching the ‘Life in Close Up’ season with Blasted instantly stimulated debate and got people talking about what the The Other Room in Cardiff was doing. This was my first piece as a young critic and I had no idea what to expect. After briefly flitting over a Wikipedia synopsis, I initially struggled to grasp the script’s bizarre intentions. However, after seeing it performed as a play rather than reading out a list of violent gimmicks, it became clear that these online summaries are hugely damaging to the play’s reputation; the impact lies within the performance. Despite its controversial standpoint, The Other Room’s production was given a 4* rating by The Guardian and overall it excelled in its reviews from critics who were somewhat shaken but left in awe.
Blasted- A Close up with Kate Wasserberg (Artistic Director)
Q: Recently, with Sherman’s ‘Iphigenia in Splott’ and Chapter’s more ambitious programme, Cardiff theatre seems to have dropped the conservative barrier but a script of this intensity has very rarely been performed on Welsh soil. This was out of Cardiff’s theatrical comfort zone. You clearly had confidence in the script and the fantastic cast. Were you concerned about the play’s notoriety and about challenging the relatively safe expectations of theatre that Cardiff sits comfortably with or did you anticipate that this would fuel its success? Despite the fact that I cannot pretend to have necessarily enjoyed watching Blasted, it was an unforgettable experience and one that has successfully conjured a huge critical response.
Kate: I have always thought of Blasted as a really honest, heartfelt play. Of course I was aware that it is shocking in places and yes that was a conscious decision, to offer up something new. But the main motivation was not so much a response to the arts scene but as a way to attempt to articulate the world as I was experiencing it at the time, not as wholly dark but certainly with cruelty and pain and callousness out there, on the news. The critical response was really varied, and the first few reviews that came out, they really disliked the show and that was quite a raw experience – I can’t remember the last time I have felt so exposed, the cast were giving these incredibly courageous performances and we hadn’t had long to rehearse it really so I felt very protective. But that’s part of doing this play, and approaching it the way we did – head on with no deliberate style. It’s not for everyone and you have to accept that. Of course then more reviews came out and some people did really like it and that was lovely and the audience started to feedback to us and we grew in confidence, but all responses are perfectly valid and that rawness is part of the experience, I think.
Q: Initially, I struggled to distinguish what exactly had bothered me about the play which was odd because the shocking violent junctures are overtly clear and it surprised me that they were not my primary concern. It was the moments of sympathy embedded in the horror, Kate’s uncontrollable laughter and the desperate cry for help read through Ian’s eye contact during the rape. It was the fact that there is never an entire loss of humanity which as an audience member is what you crave in order to dismiss what you have witnessed. Were you specifically conscious about how these moments were going to be directed?
Kate: I think I was, yes. Our starting point as a company was to be as real as possible – to ask, but what if this really was happening? It sounds a bit trite to say it now but in a play that is known for being shocking, it was important for us that the people were complex and human and real. Christian, Louise and Simon were all totally fearless about allowing themselves to go to some very difficult places emotionally and that did take a toll on them at times, but I think they all felt like we were engaged in something quite special and it was worth the vulnerability they felt.
Q: I am sure, particularly with this play, you witnessed a whole spectrum of reactions as people came out of The Other Room. Is there a specific response that stands out to you?
Kate: It was a bit odd in previews – perfectly content, happy people came in and shaken, crying people came out and I genuinely thought, my god, what are we engaged in here? Why do that to people? But of course to be moved is wonderful, even when it’s dreadful. I remember a group early on who really laughed at the jokes, right through to the end, they were wonderful. And an actor friend of mine who literally couldn’t speak, she had to call me the next day. But that’s the play – that’s Sarah Kane and her brilliance. We just tried to do her justice really.
Howard Barker’s The Dying of Today (2008)
After the hype of the first production, expectations were high for the second play in the series, Howard Barker’s The Dying of Today. Inspired by Thucydides’ account of the destruction of the Sicilian expedition during the Peloponnesian War, the play is constructed from that anxiety induced moment of inevitability, considering the worst case scenario in order to deduce how we process the phenomenon ‘bad news’. This was an equally challenging script for entirely different reasons. Barker’s play is stripped of distractions; its plot can be summarised by one line. To keep an audience attentive when the play is entirely based around a conversation with two people in such a mundane environment is a challenge for any director and two man cast.
The Dying of Today- A Close Up with Kate
Q:When I came to see this play, I distinctly remember that I still had half a drink left after the production came to a close. I was immediately drawn into the performance. It almost had a hypnotic effect on me and I think that had a lot to do with the narrative’s rhythmic pace and the fluidity of Leander Deeny and Christian Patterson’s interactions. How did you initially approach this script, was maintaining the momentum a high priority?
Kate: Definitely. We slowed right down in rehearsal to get the detail in but we always had our eye on pace and the confidence with which the ideas develop. It’s acrobatics in some ways, part of the joy is watching them leap from one idea to the next without stopping. Dneister (Leander Deeny) talks for seven minutes without stopping at the beginning of the play and that in itself; to talk ceaselessly and hold the attention of those listening, is a daring feat, especially when the ideas are so complex. Then the barber (Christian Patterson) joins and seems at first to be much simpler and slower but he very quickly builds his own pace and the whole show feels almost like a running race, exploding into physical action with the destruction of the shop.
Q: When the material that is being performed in front of you is as intense as Blasted, the space suddenly becomes very theatrically claustrophobic but for The Dying of Today, the chess board floor manipulates the size of the performance area and it feels deceptively bigger. Has it been a challenge to make the best of such a small space? In this case, what inspired the retro fifties salon? I loved the concept of the audience being the reflection of what we were watching as we sat waiting in anticipation for the news ourselves.
Kate: I definitely wanted the space to feel radically different for each show in the season and for it to be as exciting to walk into The Dying of Today as it was for Blasted, when the audience were seeing the theatre for the first time since the conversion. The 1950’s feel was about tying to distil the essence of a barber’s – a sort of reference that everyone would recognise. We tried to references various time periods throughout to stop the play feeling ‘set’ in a time or place but we also really wanted it to feel like a real shop, that was very important, that these enormous ideas unfolded in this very prosaic environment. But it had a bit of romance too, which was partly about searching for a bit of softness after the rawness of Blasted.
Alun Saunders’ A Good Clean Heart (2015)
The final play in the season was a newly commissioned bilingual work by Alun Saunders, a Welsh writer from Neath who trained as an actor at the RWCMD. A Good Clean Heart addresses a number of challenging questions about our cultural and personal identity but this is a truly unique piece of theatre for its ambitious and playful engagement with language. The play follows the story of two brothers raised in different cultures and familial environments; Hefin, adopted in Wales, well educated and a first-language Welsh speaker and Jay his older brother now living in London with his biological mother who they were originally taken away from. When Hefin is finally told on his eighteenth birthday of a sibling who has been reaching out to him, in a moment of spontaneity he initiates the long awaited meet where the pair struggle to come to terms with the years they have lost. Along with the discovery of his English roots, Hefin is introduced to his brother at a rather inconvenient time with the police waiting for an opportunity to bring Jay back in. The reunited family home is thrown into chaos where mother and sons are forced to make decisions that will impact the rest of their lives.
A Good Clean Heart- A Close Up with Alun Saunders
Q: Firstly, llongyfarchiadau on the incredible success that you have had with ‘A Good Clean Heart’. You must be thrilled with its critical reception?
Alun: Diolch! Thrilled is definitely one of the words… It’s a pretty overwhelming thing pouring your heart into a play without actually knowing how people are going to react. Did I say ‘overwhelming’? I mean terrifying. I imagine even seasoned Writers find it scary putting their work out there for public consumption as they’re under a different sort of pressure – the pressure to ‘keep up the good work’. For me, writing my first full-length play, I wanted to see whether what I had to say, and how I choose to say it, had a place in that public arena. The public and critical reception has absolutely spurred me on to knuckle down and write more. I’m really grateful.
Q: When you were addressing the notion of identity, it came across as a very fluid concept. I loved the intricate ways that this was incorporated into the script with James Ifan and Dorian Simpson jumping into the role of their mother and her boyfriend, drawing out that play on identity crisis. Whilst a national identity is a necessary central focus of the script, were you conscious to avoid restricting the definition of identity?
Alun: Abso-blinkin’-lutely. Having done a good bit of research into how people felt (and how strongly they felt) about their own ‘national identity’, I got such a varied response – some people aren’t bothered at all by it, where some people feel that it absolutely defines who they are. The important thing for me is that people are unique; stereotypes exist, but always with an element of contradiction (I’ve actually been called “a boy full of contradictions” myself). Whilst we constantly try to ‘order’ and categorise other people in order to help ourselves sort the ‘friendly /attractive/ positive’ from the ‘unfriendly/unattractive/negative’, nobody can decide our identity except ourselves. It was important that the characters of Hefin and Jay had a strong identity – even if that changed during the play – and that the audience were allowed to come to their own conclusions.
Q: Finally, in addition to the demanding technical work needed to create that bilingual accessibility, there was also a lot of visual play on language to the point that the words were literally bouncing of the walls. Was the animation of language and the bringing language to life something you enjoyed physically constructing?
Alun: From quite early on in the development of A Good Clean Heart, Kate Wasserberg and Mared Swain the plays director and I had discussions about the technical possibilities of this play. It’s been such a huge collaboration of ideas and skills to bring what was eventually seen to life, and I just feel honoured that so many people’s hard work created this success. For my part, I needed to create characters which the actors (and subsequently, the audience) could believe in, and a story and dialogue to channel that. I was always conscious, whilst writing, of the technical possibilities, so I was interested to see how we could bring a letter, an email and an online chat to life on stage, but the focus was always on where the story was going. Especially by Draft 14…
Kate: Huge praise is due to Zak Hein, who designed the animation, including the subtitling. He worked with Mared to create an incredibly bold visual language for the play that made the bilingualism a joy and also made the show very youthful. I think it worked brilliantly.
Alun: As a Playwright, writing my first full-length play under Kate and Mared’s mentoring has been invaluable. I’ve been pushed to the limits (and beyond) of what I thought I could manage, but seeing the end result has been worth every last blistered typing finger, every tear and 4am coffee. Had I given up four or five drafts ago then my life may, theoretically, have been ‘easier’, but the play we’d have ended up with would have been much weaker for it. I’m really grateful to those whip-cracking slave-drivers for believing in me, and for pushing me to get where we all wanted – only then could we justify the whole team’s hard work. Now to decide where we take it next…
A Final Word on the Season’s success…
Q: The Other Room has clearly hit Cardiff by storm, you must be very happy with the overall response to the first season?
Kate: Of course, we are and incredibly touched and grateful that so many people have supported the project – by coming to the shows, spreading the word and bringing people along. We are so proud to be part of this fantastic city and hope to continue to be worthy of our brilliant audience.
Q: What can we expect next, are there big plans in the pipeline?
Kate: We are putting the finishing touches on our next season and I’m deep into programming 2016. Some very exciting plans and a new way of working – we’ll keep you posted!
The Other Room will be hosting its first Young Arts Festival from 18-20th June where young talents will be showcased through a series of short plays written and performed by all those participating in the week’s festivities. For more information visit: http://www.otherroomtheatre.com/en/whats-on/current-productions/
A huge thank you to Kate and Alun for taking time out of their busy schedules for Young Critics.
The Other Room has undergone a transformation and after a certain amount of hype, has opened its floodgates with the aim of producing a torrent of new Welsh plays, as well as a foundation of post-1950 classics. The first of these is Blasted.
The bus journey home after seeing Blasted – my first live Sarah Kane play, having read them all – was an interesting one. Unsure of how I felt I started projecting my feelings onto the world around me. A large boxer dog was wailing loudly fairly continuously for a few minutes, before a man approached it with his own, smaller, more placid dog held under his arm, like a gun. He held his dog close to the boxer so that they could sniff each other for a while before he returned to his seat. The boxer fell silent, its anxiety eased.
I felt like that boxer. I wanted to howl with it. I needed someone to sniff, to connect with, and to understand.
Blasted is not a good play, nor an enjoyable play: those are simply the wrong words. It is one heck of an experience however, and you will feel something, whether that’s disgust or arousal, horror or empathy.
This is Sarah Kane’s first play, and when it opened at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in 1995 it was called a “disgusting piece of filth” by Jack Tinker of the Daily Mail. This opinion was shared by many.
However, many critics backtracked in subsequent years, such as The Guardian’s Michael Billington who said “I got it wrong”. Since her suicide in 1999 – leaving five plays and one short film behind – she has gained further reverence posthumously.
Blasted manages to pile horror upon horror. It is only by going to such dark extremes that certain philosophical ideas come to light, and a moral is found. What makes one death worse than another? A life more valuable? To paraphrase one of the lines: your arse is not special.
In the face of abjection, each character has their own defence mechanisms; their way of rationalising the irrational. It is a wonderfully complex exploration of human interaction and broken, vulnerable minds.
Louise Collins plays the innocent Cate, and manages to straddle the chasm between waif and harbinger-of-doom. She gives us and Cate her all, complete with tears, snot and unnerving blackouts. From the moment she steps fresh-faced and wide-eyed into the room, to the pallid, red-eyed bowing at the end, she undergoes a slow catharsis throughout the play. A brutal transformation and performance.
In contrast, Christian Patterson is the foul-mouthed, capricious Ian – a tabloid journalist paying for the two’s stay in a hotel in Leeds. He is every bit the antithesis of Cate, who he manipulates and hurts in order to appease himself. Christian bares all; despite his character’s anger and bigotry, he allows us to see the hurt and the fear. There is humour too, which bobs to the surface when desolation sits like oil.
If Ian is the great white, Simon Nehan gives us the Megalodon as the Soldier. He is vicious and feral; yet for all his barbarism he too is darkly comic. He executes the bloodiest and most heinous acts that society is too ashamed to call its own. Blasted is arguably an anti-war play; it certainly shows war to be the worst of humanity. Within a character that is extreme and highly symbolic, Simon mines little personal nuggets of truth and reason.
Director Kate Wasserberg has no doubt spent a long time with the actors, pushing them to places which had me squirming in my seat and neurotically twirling my pencil. A feeling of tension prevails throughout.
The production benefits from a commissioned soundtrack by composer Nick Gill. Piano, marimba, whisperings and static haunt and fill the darkness between scenes.
The Other Room really is small: with just 44 seats the audience are in the hotel room in Leeds, which despite being expensive looks unsettling from the start. A large and oppressive painting evocative of the River Styx hangs above the neatly-made bed, contrasting with angelic white curtains that surround the venue’s fire escape. There is a smoky whiff of The Royal Court.
Kane said of the theatre “I keep coming back in the hope that someone in a darkened room somewhere will show me an image that burns itself into my mind”. Last night, completely by chance, a cloud of dense white smoke curled behind Ian and the Soldier, and formed what I thought was a ghost. I was simultaneously horrified and praising of the production values. It soon dissipated and I realised my mistake, but I am thankful The Other Room provided such a personal and uncanny experience.
To return to my bus journey home: I sat beside a man listening to heavy metal and thought how anxious and stressed I would be listening to that- why on Earth does he?
Then I realised, Blasted is heavy metal.
As part of The Other Room’s ‘Life in Close Up’ season, it runs until March 7th; tickets are available from their website www.otherroomtheatre.com.
I recommend getting along and seeing what this budding new theatre has to offer.
Review by Eifion Ap Cadno
Production photo by Pallasca Photography